This week Russian bombers flew out of Iranian air bases to attack rebel positions in Syria. The State Department pretended not to be surprised. It should be alarmed. Intensely nationalistic Iran had never before let foreign forces operate from its soil.
The reordering of the Middle East is proceeding. For 40 years the U.S.-Egypt alliance anchored the region; A Russia-Iran condominium is now dictating events. That’s what results from the nuclear deal with Iran, the evacuation of Iraq and utter U.S. immobility on Syria. Consider:
The nuclear deal was supposed to begin a rapprochement between Washington and Tehran. Instead, it solidified a strategic-military alliance between Moscow and Tehran. With the lifting of sanctions and the normalizing of Iran’s international relations, Russia rushed in with major deals, including the shipment of S-300 ground-to-air missiles.
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These bombing runs cross Iraqi airspace. Before President Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq, that could not have happened. The resulting vacuum has not only created a corridor for Russian bombing, it has gradually allowed a hard-won post-Saddam Iraq to slip into Iran’s orbit.
When Russia intervened last year, Obama did nothing. Indeed, he smugly predicted Vladimir Putin had entered a quagmire. Some quagmire. Bashar Assad’s regime is not only saved. It encircled Aleppo and has seized the upper hand in the civil war. Meanwhile, our hapless secretary of state is trying to sue for peace, offering to share intelligence and legitimize Russian intervention if Putin will promise to conquer gently.
Dealt a very weak hand, Putin has restored Russia to great power status.
In Europe, Putin has unilaterally redrawn the map. His annexation of Crimea will not be reversed. The Europeans are eager to throw off the few sanctions they grudgingly imposed on Russia. And the rape of eastern Ukraine continues.
Ten thousand have already died and Putin is threatening more open warfare.
Why shouldn’t he? He’s pushing an open door. Obama refuses to send Ukraine even defensive weapons. The administration’s response to these provocations? Urging “both sides” to exercise restraint.
Flaunting its expanded reach, Russia will conduct joint naval exercises with China in the South China Sea, in support of Beijing’s territorial claims and illegal military bases.
Yet the president shows little concern. He is too smart not to understand geopolitics; he simply doesn’t care. Partly because his priorities are domestic. Partly because he thinks we lack the moral standing to play international arbiter.
And partly because he’s convinced in the long run it doesn’t matter. For a man who sees a moral arc in the universe bending inexorably toward justice, calculations of raw realpolitik are 20th-century thinking – primitive, obsolete, the obsession of small minds.
Obama made this clear in speeches at the U.N., in Cairo and at home in his first year in office. Two terms later, we see the result.
At the heart of this disorder is a simple asymmetry in worldview. The major revisionist powers – China, Russia and Iran – know what they want: power, territory, tribute. They’re going after it. Obama takes Ecclesiastes’ view that these are vanities.
In the kingdom of heaven, no doubt. Here on earth, however, it matters greatly.